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Does Echinacea Prevent or Treat Symptoms of the Common Cold?


Updated April 22, 2008

Question: Does Echinacea Prevent or Treat Symptoms of the Common Cold?
Answer: Most people don’t make it through the winter without experiencing at least one cold. These viral upper respiratory tract infections usually do not cause severe symptoms and are only a mild nuisance. However, some people with underlying chronic illnesses, such as asthma or recurrent sinus infections, may experience more serious symptoms as a result of the common cold.

Herbal preparations of the leaves and root of the plant Echinacea purpurea have been used for many years for the treatment and prevention of respiratory infections. Echinacea products are commonly found in health food and neighborhood drug stores, and can be relatively expensive. But does this herbal supplement really help prevent or treat the symptoms of a cold?

There definitely is scientific evidence that echinacea benefits the immune system. This herb stimulates certain white blood cells, an important part of fighting infections in the body. While this activity has been shown in “test-tube” studies, can echinacea actually help fight the common cold?

The answer seems to be yes and no. Studies have failed to show that the people who routinely take echinacea are protected from getting upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. However, some studies do show that once a person gets a cold, echinacea can help lessen the severity of the symptoms, as well as shorten the duration of the symptoms.

So, while the manufacturers of echinacea products would like you to take this herb everyday in hopes of preventing a cold, you’re probably better off taking echinacea at the first signs of a cold.

Find out more about herbal supplements and allergies.


Linde K, Barrett B, Wölkart K, Bauer R, Melchart D. Echinacea for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1999, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000530.

O’Neil J, Hughes S, Lourie A, Zweifler J. Effects of Echinacea on the Frequency of Upper Respiratory Tract Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008; 100:384-8.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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